My husband and I have just returned from our summer holiday: a road trip from London to San Sebastian, along the South West of France. One of the highlights was the Emerald Coast of Brittany and the towns of Dinard and Saint-Malo.
We often talked about driving to France and finally this year we put words into action. I loved every minute of our trip and it was the most fun and relaxing holiday I’ve had in a long time! We took a ferry from Portsmouth in England to Cherbourg in Normandy and from there we drove our carr all the way to Spain. We crossed regions, tasted local specialities and slept in different places every night: from camping sites to AirBnB apartments to luxury hotels. It was great to watch the landscape, lifestyle and cuisine change every day and we certainly enjoyed the journey as much as the destination.
Brittany was our first stop. The coastal cities of Dinard and Saint-Malo face each other on opposite banks of the river Rance. Saint-Malo, with its charming historic centre surrounded by ramparts, is the biggest city of the two, and also the most famous. Dinard is a pleasant seaside resort with sandy beaches and a long coastal promenade. Both cities are worth a visit and together they make a great destination for a relaxing summer holiday.
Dinard was one of the most fashionable resorts in Europe at the start of the 19th century and what remains of that period are magnificent villas, grand hotels and casinos.
Today Dinard is a quiet town, with a population of just 11,000. The town was heaving with locals and tourists on Sunday afternoon when we arrived, because of the sunny day and a big flea market. We went for a cycle ride around town (thanks to our hotel for lending us bicycles) and then relaxed at the spa for a few hours. By the time we went out again for dinner, the streets of Dinard were quiet, with just a few people walking along the promenade. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of Moules Frites at 8 Bis Restaurant and walked back to our hotel for a night cap.
The next morning we had the time to walk along the long and winding promenade that surrounds the city.
There are some lovely coastal walks in both directions from the town centre of Dinard. The path to the east leads to the Pointe du Moulinet before descending down to the estuary shore and the beach of Plage du Prieure. We went for a stroll towards the west side of the promenade, walking past rocky outcrops, villas and stunning sea views all the way to the isolated beach at St-Enogat.
Grand Hotel Barrière
In Dinard we stayed at Le Grand Hotel Barrière. Part of Leading Hotels of The World, the hotel was built in 1858 in a stunning location, looking across the bay towards the fortified city of Saint-Malo.
The façade built in Second Empire architectural style is gorgeous, but my favourite feature was the terrace on the first floor, above the hotel lobby, in between the hotel’s bedroom wings.
At the back of the terrace there is a fitness centre with indoor swimming pool, steam room and sauna, which was the perfect place to relax after our car journey.
Inside the hotel you can admire more features from the Second Empire architecture, such as the elegant mouldings and high ceilings and the authentic period lift.
Our Deluxe Sea View Room was large and comfortable and featured a refined marble bathroom, elegant panelled walls and finely striped fabric.
Located on the second floor, it had a charming balcony overlooking the moored yachts and catamarans in the harbour, with the city of Saint-Malo in the distance.
The dining options at Hotel Barriere include Le Bleu B Restaurant and 333 Café. The restaurant offers a refined, regionally-inspired menu of seafood specialties created by Executive Chef Pascal Faujour. Breakfast is also served in the restaurant.
The 333 café serves up light dishes all day, afternoon tea and of course cocktails. The interiors are glamorous, with photos of Hollywood movie stars on the walls: the movie The Viking was filmed in Dinard in 1928 and the actors stayed at the Grand Hotel Barriere.
Le Grand Hotel Barriere was the perfect hotel for us to relax and to explore both Dinard and Saint-Malo.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel, but left our car in the valet parking. Just a few minutes from Hotel Barriere is Porte de Dinan where a small boat departs to Saint-Malo every 15-30′. The ferry service by Compagnie Corsaire is the quickest and enjoyable way to cross the bay. While you sit in the sun on the boat you can take in the marvellous sights of the ramparts of St Malo and the historical villas of Dinard.
Saint Malo, the famous “City of Corsairs”, is considered one of the most attractive towns in France with its cobbled streets, tall granite mansions and massive ramparts. The city’s fortifications were constructed in the 12th century while the 2k-long ramparts and city gates were erected in the 17th century. Tragically, 80% of the old city of St Malo was destroyed during bombing in the WWII, but today it is restored to its former beauty.
The charming citadel, known as Intra Muros, is a year-round tourist attraction and every little street is packed with charming stores, cafes and restaurants.
We went for a stroll in the tangled streets of the citadel, stopping at a bakery to buy kouign amann, at a shop to buy traditional Breton tops (we couldn’t help ourselves!), and at St Malo’s oldest coffee shop to drink coffee and chat to the quirky owner.
St Malo is surrounded by sandy beaches, so on a hot day you can lie down on the sand, swim in the sea or in the protected tidal pool located west of the city walls. In the evening you can watch the sunset from the west ramparts and from Plage des Bas Sablons.
We only had 24 hours to spend in Dinard and Saint-Malo, enough to get a glimpse of these two beautiful cities. Luckily there are direct ferries to Saint-Malo from Portsmouth, so I am sure we will be back in this corner of Brittany in the future!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Leading Hotel Of The World – Hotel Barriere. All opinions are my own.